VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Rick Christiansen

POSTCARDS

We sit across from one another at the old linoleum table.  It rocks slightly each time one of us rests a hand or forearm onto it.  She places postcards on the table between us as I absently pick at the worn linoleum, creating small flakes which I then brush to the floor.

She arrays the faded rectangles across the center of the table like a film editor planning her story.  I imagine a process occurring, image supporting idea, given form by words, informed by rhythm.

She almost whispers when she says, “I went to France the Summer I turned 17.  I went alone, without friends or family.  It is a long story.”

She hesitates and seems to contemplate saying more. A shiver of sadness seems to scatter her face for a moment.  Then she sighs with an expression of resolve.

“I made friends with these postcards that I found and purchased in shops and railroad kiosks.  We spoke to each other.  Each card told me a story.  Each, revealed to me a piece of where it had been, and I told each of them where I was going.”

I sipped my tea and listened to our breathing as I watched her contemplate which card would be placed next from the pile in front of her, considering proximity of each to the other.  Knowing a story changes depending on where you stand and with whom.

“This card was local to the village in which I stayed.  It is a picture of the butcher shop.  The butcher had only one hand.  I would watch him make the steaks and chops.  He would place the meat on the block carefully.  Arranging it so as to make the intended entry point of the blade most accessible.  He would then pick up the knife or cleaver and slice or chop in a single motion.” 

As she told me the story, she rearranged the postcards in front of her, mirroring the motions of the butcher as she was describing him, now only using the one hand, making a vertical chopping motion with the rectangle she was holding.  Her other hand resting unheeded next to her cup of cooling Chamomile tea.

“He would next lay down the implement and again arrange the meat for a cut.”

She continued to make the chopping motion with her hand.  Almost absently now, but with rising volume in her voice.

“Again and again he would repeat these movements until he had enough for the platter, he placed each day in the window of the shop.”

I sip my tea and sink into the rhythm of her story and the slight rocking of the table as we shift across from one another.  She breathes deeply for several moments and then speaks again in almost a whisper.

“I think he lost the hand in the war. But who knows? He was a butcher.  So many sharp encounters.”

She places the postcard of the shop gently down next to another faded card depicting a young girl looking at a park lake while trying to ignore the ducks at her feet.

“These postcards are still the best friends that I have made.  We still talk to each other.  The conversations help me to recapture my life from memory.  And now they help me to talk to you.”

I rise and kiss my Grandmother on her temple.  I take a knife from the drawer and begin to prepare lunch.

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